STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Saturday night provided college hockey action fans for both sides could be pleased about as No. 18 Penn State pushed their unbeaten streak to eight games with a 7-4 victory over in-state rival Robert Morris. The second game of the Route 22 rivalry featured three periods packed full of action with the Nittany Lions and Colonials both playing a hard-hitting brand of hockey.
“You have to give Robert Morris a lot of credit. They’re an incredibly gritty team and probably deserved a better fate tonight,” Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said.
Much like Friday night, it was Robert Morris who got on the scoreboard first, this time with a Spencer Dorowicz goal 27 seconds into the game. Dorowicz got help from Luke Lynch and Michael Louria on the goal that put the Colonials in the lead momentarily.
Denis Smirnov notched his first goal of the evening to even the score with his power play goal just seven minutes into the first period, getting assists from Cole Hults and Nikita Pavlychev on the equalizer. Smirnov batted a loose puck off Trevor Hamilton and a plethora of Colonials defenders’ sticks into the net 6:12 later to put Penn State in the lead for the first time in the game.
Less than two minutes after Smirnov’s second goal of the night, it was Nate Sucese who found the back of the net for the Nittany Lions putting Penn State up two goals. Assisted by Hults on the goal, it was the sixth goal of the season for Sucese.
Robert Morris found themselves down a man with less than 10-seconds left in the opening period but a nice 2-on-1 passing sequence put Brady Ferguson in the right spot at the right time to put the puck past Penn State goalie Peyton Jones to get within a goal of the Nittany Lions going into the second period.
It was Trevor Hamilton who notched the next Penn State goal, this one a power play goal with assists coming from Derian Hamilton and Andrew Sturtz. Hamilton’s goal pushed the Nittany Lions to a two goal advantage once again, an advantage that would be insurmountable for the Colonials to make up.
Robert Morris did not go down without a fight, however, as Louria pushed a goal past Jones to get the Colonials back within one with 41-seconds left in the second period. Louria got assists on the goal by Lynch for his second helper of the night, as well as Eric Israel.
Pavlychev pushed the lead back to two for the Nittany Lions with his seventh goal of the season, coming at 11:48 in the third period. Dorowicz answered for Robert Morris with his second tally of the night and assisted by Louria to crawl back to a one-goal deficit.
Down 5-4, the Dorowicz goal was the last answer of the night for the Colonials as Sucese pounded home an empty netter to all but seal the deal while Chase Berger added a goal of his own with less than ten seconds left in the game.
“I thought we played hard, we never gave up,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said of his team’s effort Saturday night. “We left it all out on the table today.”
The win gave Jones the program record for wins with 33.
The series between Robert Morris and Penn State was a knock-down, drag-out fight and the type of hockey you’d expect to see from teams who play within the same state lines. There were battles along and into the boards as well as some chippy and intense play throughout the six periods of hockey the teams played throughout the weekend.
“They started out certainly a lot stronger than we did, but you have to give them credit for that,” Gadowsky said of the opening for the Colonials. “When we were able to get ahead, they just kept coming. I like the mentality. They’re a gritty team and they’re tough to play against.”
The sweep of Robert Morris put the finishing touches on the 2017 portion of the regular season for Penn State which had its fair share of ups-and-downs as well as bumps and bruises for the reigning Big Ten champions. Gadowsky and squad head into the holiday break with an eight-game unbeaten streak and the opportunity to get healthy something not lost on the only coach in program history.
“We have a lot of bumps and bruises and worse,” Gadowsky said. “If we can come back healthy, that’s the goal. It’s going to be a long break. This is a tough sweep and I’m glad we got it, I think we can feel good about that.”
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
The score was far from indicative of how well the Colonials played Saturday night in their first appearance in the Pegula Ice Arena and even more so on the stat sheet where on paper Robert Morris was 0-for-4. That 0-for-4 included two shots rattled off the pipes much to the dismay of the visitors.
“Obviously, you’re disappointed you gave up seven goals, but I thought we did a lot of good things,” Schooley said.
It was the little things the Colonials did well, the contents of the game that do not show on the stat sheet. Doing those little things well serves as a catalyst for something the Robert Morris program can build on as they prepare for the Three Rivers Classic and eventually conference play.
“I thought our energy was outstanding, I thought our emotion was outstanding,” Schooley raved about his teams intangibles. “We asked them to play 60 minutes, we have not been doing that consistently and I thought we did a very good job at that consistently tonight.”
With the improved performance, there is still much to be desired and much to be worked on for the Colonials as the season stretches on.
“At the end of the day, we have to be a little bit better defensively. Our penalty kill has got to do a better job,” Schooley said. “A lot to build on there, I’m really pleased with our effort against a hockey team that’s on an unbelievable roll right now.”
Robert Morris will next hit the ice this coming weekend as they go through a home-and-home against conference foe, Mercyhurst. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 pm from Colonials Arena next Saturday, December 17. The Colonials will hop on the bus and head to Erie to take on the Lakers the next day with puck drop scheduled for 4:05 pm from Erie.